Growing Together Mini-Grants Awarded to 22 Iowa Projects

Grants totaling over $50,000 designed to fight food insecurity across Iowa

February 18, 2019, 2:58 pm | Susan DeBlieck, Christine Hradek, Caitlin Szymanski

AMES, Iowa – The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program has announced 22 recipients of its Growing Together mini-grant program. This is the fourth year mini-grant funds have been available, with more than $50,000 in grant money from the SNAP-Education program being distributed across the state.

The projects are focused on increasing food security and promoting healthy food access throughout Iowa.

young lettuce plants by chaiyon021/“I’m excited to see what Master Gardener volunteers and their partner organizations are going to do with these mini-grants,” said Susan DeBlieck, Master Gardener coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. “We have a mix of counties that are brand new to the project, as well as others that have been setting the stage and are being replicated by Master Gardeners across the country.”

To be eligible to receive a grant, applicants must be an active Iowa Master Gardener, have the support of their county ISU Extension and Outreach staff and have strong partnerships with community organizations that serve Iowans experiencing poverty.

“Iowa State SNAP-Education is proud to partner with the ISU Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program for another year of exciting work,” said Christine Hradek, coordinator of the SNAP-Education program at Iowa State. “It is exciting to see so many Iowa communities committed to increasing access to fruits and vegetables for their neighbors with low income.”

2019 county projects

The following projects were awarded grants funded through the SNAP-Education program:

  • Boone – Plant and maintain a food pantry donation garden, distribute educational materials to help low-income families learn about safe preparation of garden foods.
  • Bremer – Maintain and expand existing donation gardens that donate to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and area churches.
  • Buena Vista – Create new and expand current donation gardens that benefit low-income senior housing and the Newell food pantry. Project will also establish an indoor grow light system to grow transplants for the gardens and help extend the growing season.
  • Clayton – Maintain and expand donation garden through new raised beds, with all produce to be donated to the Clayton County Food Shelf.
  • Dallas – Increase fruit and vegetable access at the Waukee Area Christian Food Pantry through the Fruitful Vine donation garden.
  • Des Moines - Increase community volunteer partnerships to grow and maintain donation garden at Homestead 1839 as well as support gleaning at the local Farmers Market.  
  • Dickinson – Plant and maintain a dedicated donation garden for local food pantry recipients and provide educational classes and materials on food safety and preservation.
  • Dubuque – Maintain and expand two donation garden sites at the Dubuque Rescue Mission and the Westminster Gardens.
  • Hardin – Create and maintain a community donation garden with support from the Eldora Community Garden Club and 4-H to donate fresh produce to the Eldora Food Pantry.
  • Jasper – Increase productivity at donation gardens through season extension technology and better weed management, as well as to support produce food rescue in the community.
  • Jefferson – Maintain and expand donation garden including planting perennial produce plants and utilizing season extension technology.
  • Johnson – Increase garden production and provide more produce to area organizations serving low-income individuals and families. Project will include planting additional perennial fruits and vegetables at the Johnson County Fairgrounds donation demonstration garden.
  • Linn – Expand and maintain, along with community partners, 12 donation gardens as well as recruit individual gardeners to “Connect, Grow, Share a Row” in their home gardens.
  • Marshall – Expand engagement with local youth and community partners to grow and distribute more fresh produce to the House of Compassion and the Food Emergency Box.
  • Monona – Engage youth and community volunteers to maintain a donation garden adjacent to the county fairgrounds. Donated produce will benefit local low-income families primarily through the monthly food giveaways in Mapleton and Onawa.
  • Muscatine – Expand and maintain donation gardens to benefit local food pantries. Volunteers will also support a local vegetable freezing and packing event to make local vegetables accessible later in the year at local food pantries.
  • O’Brien and Osceola – Collaborate to maintain a community donation garden in Sanborn, expand a donation garden in Sibley and coordinate drop sites for community members to leave produce donations for delivery to area food pantries.
  • Polk – Increase production and sustainability at donation gardens through fruit and vegetable perennial plants as well as improved soil quality.
  • Story – Maintain a garden at Beloit Children’s Home that teaches gardening skills to residents. Produce will be donated to their facility kitchen as well as local food pantries.
  • Webster – Convert an abandoned, city-owned community garden into a donation garden with new accessible raised beds. Harvested produce will be donated to two local food pantries.
  • West Pottawattamie – Maintain and increase productivity at donation garden to supply fresh produce to the local free school summer lunch program and the Care and Share pantry.
  • Woodbury – Expand and maintain accessible raised garden beds at low-income housing facilities as well as support garden food rescue and donation to benefit local food pantries. Project will also construct a new grow light shelf to start seedlings indoors at a much lower cost, as well as growing certain vegetables year round.

Over the last three years, Iowa Master Gardeners have donated over a quarter-million pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries through Growing Together mini-grants and demonstration gardens, including over 90,000 pounds in 2018 alone.

Additionally, previous Growing Together mini-grant awardees have been able to use their funding to create sustainability with their projects.

“There are several groups across Iowa who still participate in this project but aren’t receiving mini-grants because they have become self-sustained and are able to continue their work without the funds,” said Caitlin Szymanski, local foods program coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. “For example, several counties have used their grants to plant apple trees which will allow them to donate fresh fruit for years to come.”

More information on donation gardens can be found in the ISU Extension and Outreach Community Donation Gardening Toolkit.

Photo: young lettuce plants by chaiyon021/

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